Letter: Rembrandt's veil

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The Independent Culture
Sir: John Berger develops the thesis that after the initial stages, portrait painters need the absence, rather than the presence, of their sitters to allow them the freedom to bring life to a portrait which would otherwise be accurate but "dead" ("Me, myself, I", 3 June). He adds that for the same reason, after starting a self-portrait, Rembrandt would cover the mirror he used with a cloth.

In this light, you might be interested to know that it's a long-standing Jewish tradition to cover the mirrors at times of mourning. An intelligent artists such as Rembrandt would - with his Jewish background - have thus been very conscious of the symbolism of what he was doing.


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